The campaign to retain one of the last slices of open beachfront bush land at Kingscliff as public open space, backed by a petition signed by more than 10,000 people, has been ramped up and a call made for a public meeting to be held on the issue as soon as possible.
But the state government’s recent under-the-radar move to change the status of the 40-hectare coastal reserve long-known as Lot 490, between Cudgen bridge and the Salt development, appears to have thwarted the campaign to retain the whole of the site for public open space.
Residents have for many years fought to save the parcel of Crown land site from development and only last year developer Leighton Properties pulled the pin on its controversial lease approved by the state for a resort on the site.
The Save Our Lot 490 group has since campaigned hard to have the beachfront reserve kept as a habitat and wildlife corridor and public open space.
Tweed Shire Council last year proposed to hold a public meeting on the future of the land after it met with lands department staff, but that seems to have been put on hold.
And on September 4, just two weeks after the Save Our Lot 490 group tabled a preliminary petition in parliament calling on the O’Farrell government not to sell or lease the land to developers for another resort, the government changed the land’s status by dividing it into two lots, one retained as ‘Crown Land’, the other as ‘Government Property’.
Under the split, the new ‘Lot 1’ is the area between Casuarina Way and Kingscliff South Beach where, since 2004, successive Labor and coalition governments have been trying to lease the land for a resort .
The area between Casuarina Way and Cudgen Creek, now known as ‘Lot 2′, remains as Crown Land’.
No public announcement or media statement was made over the important change, and the move outraged campaign spokesman Jerry Cornford.
‘It means the land can now be sold or leased without any of the restrictions normally attaching to Crown Land or Coastal Reserves,’ Mr Cornford said.
‘Rather than coming under the auspices of the minister responsible for Crown Lands, deputy premier Andrew Stoner, the land will now be managed by the ministry of finance.
‘The Save Our Lot 490 group believe the finance department has appointed a project development officer to manage the sale or lease of the land,’ he said.
Mr Cornford said the change of status did not appear to meet essential criteria under the Government Property Act of 2006, as Lot 490 had ‘no public or private infrastructure of any kind, let alone a government asset or agency’.
Mr Stoner, in his response to the preliminary petition of the first 500 signatures of the campaign tabled in August last year, said he was ‘advised that the zoning for the land permits tourist and visitor accommodation, and development consent exists that permits a tourist resort’.
Mr Stoner said ‘it is appropriate, in my view, that the government remains committed to achieving the best possible commercial return from this valuable land asset’.
Mr Stoner at the time said there would be no action on the land pending determination of an Aboriginal land rights claim lodged over the land in June last year.
Mr Cornford told Echonetdaily that despite the record number (10,200-plus) of signatures for a local petition and that most Tweed councillors backed retaining the land for public use, ‘the NSW government still appears determined to sell or lease the land to a private developer, and has refused to host or take part in any public meeting on Lot 490’.
But he said Mr Stoner’s comments ‘while obviously disappointing, do appear to give Tweed Shire Council room for some initiative in purchasing the land back from government and developing a Plan of Management and re-zoning which reflect the wishes of the community’.
Mr Cornford says confidential briefing notes on Mr Stoner’s response contained ‘serious errors in regard to the environmental values of Lot 490’.
‘The notes state “there is no merit to perceptions that the site has ecological significance which should be protected,” and “the site was heavily disturbed in the 1970s by sand mining” but neither of these statements is true,’ he said.
‘Lot 490 was never sand mined although an area of it was used to dump residue from the mining. And Lot 1, the area for sale, has equal, if not more, ecological significance than the area between Casuarina Way and Cudgen Creek which has been left as Crown Land.
‘Both the James Warren survey for the failed Leightons Resort venture and more recent independent surveys have identified significant biodiversity with 101 native plant species recorded.
‘The land is a significant part of an important and rare wild life habitat and corridor linking the beach to the creek to the forests inland and includes four threatened species, the Grey headed flying fox, Black tailed flying fox, Little bent-wing bat and Common blossom bat.
‘In addition there are 70 bird species including the endangered Glossy Black Cockatoo, Bush Stone Curlew, and Osprey.
‘It also contains the majority of the local feed trees for the Glossy Black Cockatoo
Endangered flora on the site includes a Swamp Oak Floodplain forest, Geodorum densiflorum, Cryptocaryia foetida, valuable Banksia woodland, an extremely rare sedgeland, scattered regenerating rainforest trees and native grasslands which are under-represented on the Tweed Coast.
‘Five regionally significant plants have been recorded including Umbrella Cheese Tree Glochidion sumatranum, Thin-leaved Coondoo, Planchonella chartacea, Peanut Tree Sterculia quadrifida, and Grey Ebony Diospyros fasciculosa and Cryptocaryia foetida.
‘Save Our Lot 490 would be most interested to know how all of the above managed to escape the deputy premier’s attention, especially since the Millennium Seed Project from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the UK saw fit to collect the seed of the Geodorum Densiflorum as a world endangered species less than 6 weeks ago,’ Mr Cornford said.
The campaign will launch its new website our490.com on Monday. It is also developing plans to submit to council for people-friendly improvements to the reserve, with car parking and picnic facilities.